Inaugural CharlestonCon joins a growing pack of comic-cons in the Charleston area 

Comic Cons, Assemble

click to enlarge Carmine de Santo (center) has hosted successful cons in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida since 1989

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Carmine de Santo (center) has hosted successful cons in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida since 1989

Carmine De Santo can tell you, without hesitation, the craziest costume he's ever seen at a comic-con event.

"A guy turned himself into a 12-foot bumblebee from Transformers," he says. "That blew me away. He told me it took about a year-and-a-half to make, and I don't doubt it at all."

De Santo, a comic-con industry veteran, expects to see similarly outrageous costumes at the first-ever CharlestonCon, which he played a pivotal role in organizing. The event will be held this Sat. Oct. 19 at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Charleston, and De Santo expects the turnout to be between 4,000-5,000 people — indeed, more than 4,600 individuals have listed themselves as "interested" on the event's Facebook page. Tickets can be purchased on charlestoncon.com, or at the door the day of the event.

Those who attend the inaugural one-day show will be treated to an eclectic array of guests and attractions, including the creator of Deadpool (Fabian Nicieza), the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, and two WWE Hall of Famers (Tito Santana and Koko B.Ware). There will also be a cosplay costume contest, with awards for best male, best female, best group, and best kid. De Santo listed the costume contest as one of the aspects he's most excited about. "It's a great way to get ready for Halloween," he says.

It's the event's diversity of guests and attractions, however, that may be its biggest draw.

In addition to the aforementioned features, CharlestonCon 2019 will also star, in no particular order, the creator of Bane (Graham Nolan), a Superman car, the 1990 Batmobile, Darth Vader and Friends, Super Smash Brothers, and Dungeons and Dragons tournaments, and a full schedule of seminars — including one by an internet personality named Gavin the Entertainer entitled "How to Get Rich and Famous on YouTube."

"There's no one demographic for an event like this," De Santo says. "We see people from 10 to 80 years old. It's for families, geeks, movie fans, and everyone in between."

De Santo, who's been in the comic-con business since 1989, helped create similar events in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, and then turned them into annual shows that have become ingrained in the local culture. That's what he's hoping will happen in Charleston, too. The city has been on his radar for a while, he says, and if all goes as planned, CharlestonCon will be back in 2020, perhaps for a two-day run.

"I'll wake up on Oct. 20 and decide whether or not to bring it back," he says. "I'm pretty sure that will be the case, but we'll see how it all unfolds first."

There certainly seems to be a vibrant market for comic-con events in South Carolina's oldest city. There will be a similar gathering in November: AtomaCon 2019 (Nov. 22-24 at Hilton Garden Inn) and last Saturday saw Soundwave's Comic Con. The former is in its sixth year and focuses on sci-fi and fantasy. The latter, which is four years old, was created by Soundwave Comics in Summerville, and prides itself on being "your local, home-grown comic-con."

Perhaps the one regional event that rivals CharlestonCon in terms of scale and content is Incredible Con, which was held at the Charleston Area Convention Center in September. Like CharlestonCon, it featured big-name personalities, including Johnny Yong Bosch (actor from Power Rangers), Ed McGuiness (comic book artist for The Avengers, The Hulk, Spiderman, and Deadpool), Brittney Karbowski (voice actor from the Adult Swim series Soul Eater), and numerous other guests of equal clout.

Incredible Con's success bodes well for an upstart of similar size like CharlestonCon. "I know the people of Charleston are excited for an event like this. So I'm fully expecting it to be a great success," De Santo says.

De Santo, who began working at a comic book store at age 15, has witnessed the comic-con landscape change dramatically over the past decade. What began as niche gatherings for devout comic book nerds have progressed into more mainstream affairs that offer attractions for a wider swath of the population.

"It's become more about pop culture than strictly comic books," he says. "Not that long ago, we wouldn't have brought celebrities or TV actors. Most of the guests were comic book artists and people like that."

He has a theory for why this shift occurred.

"I think when computer graphics in movies really took off, and people could see, say, Spiderman flying in the air on the big screen like it was really happening, something started to change," he says. "People wanted to dress up as DC and Marvel characters. And, as the years went on, superhero movies and TV shows became so popular within pop culture that the two became inseparable. It was just a natural thing, I think."

So the big day is almost here. A year ago, De Santo booked the Hilton Garden Inn. Six months ago, he and his 12-person team kicked off the CharlestonCon marketing campaign. And now, this weekend, the moment of truth finally arrives.

The only remaining question is: will De Santo show up in costume?

"Those days are over," he says. " Now I come dressed in a comic-con shirt, and make sure everyone's having a good time. I'm there from set-up through the end."

"But, if you must know, I'm a huge Black Panther fan," he adds. "That was once my go-to costume. But I'd have to lose 50 pounds to fit into it nowadays."


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